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Which warehouse store membership is best? Costco vs. Sam's Club vs. BJ's Wholesale Club

BJ's Wholesale Club
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If you have several warehouse stores in your area, you may be wondering: Which is the best to join as a member? Does Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale Club come out on top?

There are a lot of similarities between the top warehouse store chains. All three allow you to save on your favorite grocery brands by buying in bulk. All three have a premium membership tier that offers 2% back on purchases. All three offer discounted gift cards, allowing you to save at other retailers. And all three offer some of the best gas prices around at their attached gas stations (where available).

But there are some serious differences between the stores, too. One warehouse store offers extended warranties on electronics. Another offers unique pharmacy perks, including free prescriptions. Only one warehouse store accepts manufacturer's coupons. And, of course, only one warehouse store has the lowest-priced membership.

The shopping experts at CBS Essentials (that's us!) have done all the work in comparing the three warehouse store memberships for you. Read on to discover the benefits of each membership, and find the best warehouse store membership for you.

Which warehouse store membership is the least expensive?

Each of the three major warehouse stores charges a different price for membership. At the time of publication, the prices for base-level membership are:

  • Costco: $60 per year
  • BJ's Wholesale Club: $55 per year.
  • Sam's Club: $50 per year

That said, each of the three stores is offering a promotion right now for new members. Sign up for Costco through May 12 with code PARA24 and you'll get a $40 Digital Costco Shop Card, which is like getting your first year of membership for $20. Sign up for Sam's Club through April 30 and you'll pay just $14 for your first year of membership. And BJ's Wholesale Club is offering memberships for $20 now through May 6, with a bonus $20 reward when you first spend $60.

So if you account for all the deals and promotions available on memberships, BJ's Wholesale Club is the least expensive to start -- you can essentially join for free.

Is a Sam's Club membership worth it?

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While not quite as widespread as Costco, Sam's Club has almost 600 store locations in 45 U.S. states as of October 2023.

Walmart is known for having low prices, so it comes as no surprise that the company's Sam's Club membership is the most affordable. In fact, a current Sam's Club membership deal allows you to join Sam's Club for just $14 for your first year when you sign up for auto-renew.

There are a lot of similar benefits between Costco and Sam's Club, but Sam's Club members enjoy some perks that Costco shoppers do not. Sam's Club offers Scan & Go, which lets you pay for items in the Sam's Club app and skip the checkout lines. Sam's Club offers great prices on prescription medications -- some are free for Sam's Club Plus members. And Sam's Club locations tend to be open later than Costco stores, especially on the weekends, making it more convenient to shop there.

You can currently become a Sam's Club member for only $14 a year, now through April 30, 2024. That's 72% off the usual price. (Restrictions apply, tap the button for details.)

Upgrade to Sam's Club Plus

Like Costco's Executive membership, Sam's Club Plus offers shoppers a 2% rebate on purchases. Sam's Club caps this benefit at $500 per year. You can get an additional 3% back at Sam's Club if you make purchases with the Sam's Club Mastercard, and 5% back at gas stations.

Sam's Club Plus members can shop the warehouse retailer before anyone else, starting as early as 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Free curbside pickup is also available for Plus members, where a staff member loads up your car with your order. Same-day home delivery is offered at $8 with Plus (order by 1 p.m.).

Another great, unique benefit: Sam's Club Plus members get 10 select prescription medications for free. Treating Fido or Fluffy? The retailer also offers discounts on pet prescriptions. Speaking of health, with Sam's Club Plus you get 20% off a pair of glasses and free shipping on contact lenses.

Become a Sam's Club Plus member for only $50 a year. That's $60 off the usual $110 membership price. Tap the button below to get in on the deal while it lasts.

Is a Costco membership worth it?

A Costco Wholesale Store Grand Opening
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Costco is the largest and most widespread of the warehouse stores, with 602 locations in the U.S. across 47 states, and a total of 874 locations worldwide as of February 2, 2024. (Only Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wyoming lack Costco stores.)

Costco is a great place to stock up on household essentials, such as Tide laundry detergentpaper towels, milk, eggs and more. It's hard to beat Costco's $1.50 hot dog combo, $4.99 rotisserie chicken and $9.99 fresh-baked pizzas when it comes to feeding a big family on the cheap. But to really save money, we recommend stocking up on Costco's house brand, Kirkland Signature.

"I love the affordability and quality of the in-house Kirkland Signature brand," explains CBS Essentials Senior Managing Editor Fox Van Allen, who visits Costco at least once a week. "It's always on par with the top national brands. And I especially love discovering new snacks and treats -- Costco is always rotating in new items you're almost guaranteed to love.

"PS: Try the Aussie Bites."

Costco is a smart place to find household goods -- think furniture, appliances, bedding and more. Costco also offers an extended warranty on electronics at no added cost and has a much friendlier return policy than Best Buy and other retailers.

Starting at $60 per year for a Gold Star membership, Costco is the most expensive of the three warehouse stores. But if you have a Costco near you, we think it's worth the money. 

Now through May 12, you'll receive a $40 Digital Costco Shop Card when you sign up for a new Costco membership. There are a few catches -- you need to enter the CBS Essentials exclusive promo code PARA24, you'll need to agree to auto-renew and you need to be a new member. (Those whose Costco membership expired more than 18 months ago qualify.*)

Upgrade to a Costco Executive membership

If you want to take your Costco savings to the next level, upgrade to a Costco Executive membership. It costs an extra $60 per year over a standard membership, but you'll start earning a 2% rebate on your yearly Costco purchases, including vacations purchased through Costco Travel. The annual 2% reward is mailed with your renewal notice, two months before the renewal date. If you spend more than $3,000 at Costco per year, the upgrade will pay for itself.

The maximum yearly reward for Costco Executive members is $1,000 -- double the maximum at Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club.

Become a Costco Executive member for $120 per year. If you find that you're not saving money with the Costco Executive membership, you can ask for a downgrade and a prorated refund at any time.

Reminder: Be sure to enter code PARA24 at checkout.

Is a BJ's Wholesale Club membership worth it?

BJ's Wholesale Club
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BJ's Wholesale Club has more than 215 locations across 16 states, all along the East Coast. It offers most of the same perks as Costco and Sam's Club, with a few unique offerings, as well.

Like Costco and Sam's Club, BJ's Wholesale Club is a great place to buy groceries in bulk. But we also like that BJ's carries many items in smaller supermarket sizes, too.

If you're coupon-obsessed, BJ's Wholesale Club is the membership for you. It's the only warehouse store of the three that accepts all manufacturer's coupons. We also love that BJ's Wholesale Club often runs its own promotions at its gas stations: You'll save 50 cents per gallon when you first spend $150 in-store now through April 28, 2024.

Normally $55 per year, BJ's Wholesale Club is currently offering a deal where you can get your first year of membership for $20. Better yet, you'll get a $20 reward when you first spend $60, so it's like becoming a BJ's Wholesale Club member for free. This deal ends May 6, 2024.

(Note that you'll need to sign up for auto-renewal to get this deal. Your reward must be used within 30 days.)

Upgrade to a The Club+ Card membership

Like Costco and Sam's Club, BJ's Wholesale Club's premium membership offers 2% back in rewards on purchases. During some special events, this reward can reach as high as 6%. The benefit is capped at $500 per year. Rewards never expire.

The Club+ Card members also get an additional 5 cents per gallon discount when filling up at BJ's Gas stations.

Sign up for a The Club+ Card membership for $110 per year.

What's the fine print on the Costco deal?

*To receive a Digital Costco Shop Card, you must provide a valid email address and set up auto-renewal of your Costco membership on a Visa card at the time of sign-up. If you elect not to enroll in auto-renewal at the time of sign-up, the Digital Costco Shop Card will not be emailed. Valid only for nonmembers for their first year of membership. Not valid for renewal or upgrade of an existing membership. To qualify as a new member, an existing Costco membership must be expired at least 18 months or more. Limit one promotion per household. Promotion is non-transferable and may not be combined with any other promotion. Digital Costco Shop Cards are not redeemable for cash, except as required by law. Digital Costco Shop Card will be emailed to the email address provided by the primary member at the time of sign-up within two weeks after successful sign-up and enrollment in auto renewal. Costco is not liable for incentives not received due to entry of an invalid address during sign-up. Digital Costco Shop Cards are not accepted at gas stations, car wash, food court kiosks or self-checkout.

Use the provided single-use promo code PARA24 when entering your payment information. You will see a $0.01 deduction on your membership cost after the promo code is entered. This indicates that your promo code has been successfully processed so your incentive will be emailed.

A Costco membership is $60 per year. An Executive Membership is an additional $60 upgrade fee a year. Each membership includes one free Household Card. May be subject to sales tax. Costco accepts all Visa cards, as well as cash, checks, debit/ATM cards, EBT and Costco Shop Cards. Departments and product selection may vary.

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